Friday, July 17, 2009

Hot Air, Celebs, Bono – Love Miles, Jet Travel, and an On-line Book to Rock your Ages

By Paul K. Haeder

In a post I’ll be putting on PacifiCAD Blogspot over the weekend dealing with masculinity, or the so-called end of macho, and the debate about labor shortages, especially the construction industry and industrial arts, and the rise of women in the workplace – especially in board rooms and in the business and health and education fields – and how women outnumber men significantly in terms of matriculating from colleges here, I’ll be talking about how we have a major disconnect with these facts – the downfall of men, who have been hit hardest in this unemployment sacking of our economy by the stock market creeps, as in up to 80 percent of the jobs lost in the past 6 months involve the Y chromosome holders – AND how we need hard work and workers that are smart with hands, building principles, and fabrication and engineering to build turbines, solar arrays, to retrofit our leaky, inefficient houses and buildings, even to go at the farm work and to retool our cities.

For now, though let’s get back to U2’s Bono (see an earlier blog post here) and the celebs whose carbon footprints are an embarrassment to humanity, and we as citizens who have been dubbed consumers need to rethink what we buy, what we do to entertain us, and what money we spend on to continue our own support of these pop icons. Read below the article by Vanessa Richmond on eco-footprint and U of British Columbia professor William Rees’ work on ecological footprints. These high-flying people are earth killers, and as Richmond points out, wouldn’t it be cool if writer Naomi Wolf looked at Angelina Jolie’s carbon footprint as she flies her private planes to jet set here and there. I know Wolf, and I’ve interviewed her and had the pleasure of being on the same stage with her. I know her life as a successful writer involves flying around, getting to one book signing and one lecture to the next. She does use commercial airlines to tool around. Her carbon footprint is so much higher than some hard-working guy or gal who rarely or never gets to fly in a jet (think third world and developing world population).

Celebs like Madonna or John Travolta have several homes, many cars, and even Travolta has a specially equipped 747. Come on! We need carbon taxes on these things – shadow homes, 2-4-2’s as they call them. That’s two people in 4, 000 square foot fully outfitted cabins for two weeks in Montana. Tax excess vehicles. Give tax breaks on those who don’t fly, who bike to work, who do not have a new car every two years, who have less square footage.

Rees is one person we talk about a lot at PacifiCAD Blogspot, and we’ll be looking British physicist Brian McKay’s online book

Sustainable Energy — Without the Hot Air

David JC MacKay Here’s his work on air miles --

“For instance, if you learn that a round-trip intercontinental flight emits nearly two tons of CO2 per passenger, then knowing the average emissions yardstick (51/2 tons per year per person) helps you realise that just one such plane-trip per year corresponds to over a third of the average person’s carbon emissions.

We spend about one third of our energy on controlling the temperature of our surroundings – at home and at work – and on warming or cooling our food, drink, laundry, and dirty dishes. Remember that these are English consumption habits. Americans consume fifty percent more energy than the British."

We also mention George Monbiot’s Guardian newspaper column on global warming, and his book, Heat. There are plenty of studies on how much pollution and CO2 and nitrous oxide that air travel produces, and it’s not public transportation, efficient public transportation. Too often my greenies talk about five or 10 sustainability-green symposia they travel to yearly, via air travel, and I argue that those air miles are part of the problem. They default to some odd concept – “The plane is taking off anyway so what’s wrong with me filling one of those empty chairs?” I will get to those greenies' arguments who might read the blog by presenting physicists’ findings on the impact of those air miles, and what each empty and full jet plane seat means. We know in planning and transportation planning specifically that air fields and air strips and expansion of airports is one of the biggest areas of the land use game in the coming 30 years. Up to 30 to 60 percent increase in the number of air strips and the total square miles of airport expansion projects are predicted and are being planned for.

Perchlorate and noise and the destruction of communities – that is just some of the price of airport expansion, airport development. More on those issues, but for a quick look at the fight in London on expanding Heathrow airport shows the battle line against airport development and expansion. We'll look at the expansion of air cargo business in coming blogs. For now, enjoy Friday and the weekend. Note that a video link is at the bottom with Monbiot talking about these "love miles."

Uproar at airport expansion plans

Campaign groups have come out fighting as the government pledged to press ahead with airport expansion plans


How Angelina, Bono, Gisele and Madonna Are Destroying the Planet

By Vanessa Richmond, The Tyee

What if celebrity news carried its own version of a nutrition label? But instead of calories, or health risks, how about a label that gets at celebrities' impact on the planet?

Imagine if each time a tabloid or movie or TV show fed our celebrity addiction by running the image of Angelina, Bono or Gisele Bundschen, they also were required to put the celeb's eco-footprint in the corner of that image? If the tabs really wanted to knock themselves out, they could also run a kind of eco-ingredient list -- the number of hours the celeb spends in the air, the square feet of housing she owns, number of children he has, and so on.

It's an idea with real timeliness, if I do say so myself. A few weeks ago, uber-feminist Naomi Wolf praised Angelina Jolie's independence, symbolized by her ability to fly her own plane, without even mentioning that if every woman did that, we'd need a million planets worth of resources to support the human population.

Flying High

Wolf is far from alone. This week, the top story in several tabs was that Jolie has resumed "one of her favourite hobbies...flying lessons!" without making any comment about the relative impact on the planet of flying to, say, knitting or karate.

People Magazine ran a piece about how pregnant supermodel Gisele Bundschen is "constantly traveling" (what a good earth mother). John Travolta owns his own specially outfitted 747 jet.

And the Daily Mail ran a piece about how Victoria and David Beckham were in the Seychelles one day, then Heathrow, then LA the next. How smoggy their designer footprint must be!

But these stories, and most others, tell us nothing of the impact of celebs' enviable lifestyles.

Glam Carbon Gluttons

Last week, Carbon Footprint calculated the impact of U2's world tour. Ironically, U2 is outspoken about their commitment to the environment, but carbon output of their tour this year is far bigger even than Madonna's high-maintenance carbon-heavy tour. U2's carbon emissions will equal that of 90,000 people flying from Dublin to London, and are equivalent of the waste created by 6,500 average British or Irish people in an entire year (equal to leaving a standard 100 watt light bulb on for 159,000 years). "To offset this year's carbon emissions, U2 would need to plant 20,118 trees."

This story hit media outlets around the world within hours, demonstrating that not just me but a lot of people actually are interested in such information. (I'm guessing we belong to the same tribe of label readers at the grocery store.)

But it's not enough to calculate footprints for the odd tour or movie. What the public is most often consuming is celebrity lifestyle information. And we need good information about what that actually costs.

How to Read an Eco-Footprint

People follow celebrities because "reality is scary and the surreal is not," says Dr. William Rees, the UBC professor who invented the concept of the ecological footprint. "We have made wealth and glitter and this false world of celebrity into the ideal, and people glom onto it." But, he adds, "in a sense, doing an eco-footprint of these folks might help ground us back into reality."

He said it's easy to calculate an eco-footprint: it's simply a person's consumption on an annual basis. And 85 per cent of it is made up of fuel, food, housing, and space heating.

Rees says that for the average individual, by far the biggest component is private transportation using fossil fuels: cars and plans. "Let's face it, most celebrities have half a dozen of those and travel by private aircraft."

The next item is food, because for most people, food travels long distances and therefore takes fuel, and it also consumes pesticides and so on. "Celebrities tend to have very high-end diets."

The next major category is water and space heating, and "the bigger your house and car, the larger your consumption of those." Of course, many celebrities not only have one large house, but many of them.

Rees said that there are only two hectares on the planet to support each person, but the average North American uses nine hectares, which means most North Americans need three to four times as much productive ecosystem as is available on the planet to support their needs. "The really inconvenient truth is that the current global development path is an impossibility serum."

What Planets Do They Live On?

I plugged in the consumption numbers for an imaginary celebrity into this footprint calculator and this one, too. I assumed that the person had a private jet, flew more than 400 hours a year, had at least two large houses, and owned more than one car. Those consumption amounts exceeded the maximum inputs on the survey -- there was no category for more than one house, or for private jet, for example. But even given that, the survey found it would take over 60 earths to support that lifestyle for everyone.

But then, celebrities aren't everyone, are they? They live on 60 or even hundreds of planets, while the rest of us inhabit one that's arguably in deep trouble. I'm not holding my breath that my modest proposal would ever be taken up by a media industry so invested in feeding our celebrity worship. But I'll keep dreaming of truth in labelling.

© 2009 The Tyee All rights reserved.

On the flight path to global meltdown

There is no technofix to the disastrous impact of air travel on the environment, argues George Monbiot in the final extract from his new book - the only answer is to ground most of the aeroplanes flying today

“Our moral dissonance about flying reminds me of something a Buddhist once told me: ‘It doesn't matter what you do, as long as you do it with love.’ I am sure he knew as well as I do that our state of mind makes no difference to either exploited people or the environment. Thinking like ethical people makes not a damn of difference unless we also behave like ethical people. When it comes to flying, there seems to be no connection between intention and action.

This is partly because the people who are most concerned about the inhabitants of other countries are often those who have travelled widely. Much of the global justice movement consists of people - like me - whose politics were forged by their experiences abroad. While it is easy for us to pour scorn on the drivers of sports utility vehicles, whose politics generally differ from ours, it is rather harder to contemplate a world in which our own freedoms are curtailed, especially the freedoms that shaped us.

More painfully, in some cases our freedoms have become obligations. When you form relationships with people from other nations, you accumulate what I call ‘love miles’: the distance you must travel to visit friends and partners and relatives on the other side of the planet. If your sister-in-law is getting married in Buenos Aires, it is both immoral to travel there, because of climate change, and immoral not to, because of the offence it causes. In that decision we find two valid moral codes in irreconcilable antagonism. Who could be surprised to discover that "ethical" people are in denial about the impacts of flying?

There are two reasons why flying dwarfs any other environmental impact a single person can exert. The first is the distance it permits us to cover. According to the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution, the carbon emissions per passenger mile ‘for a fully loaded cruising airliner are comparable to a passenger car carrying three or four people.’ In other words, they are about half those, per person, of a car containing the average loading of 1.56 people. But while the mean distance travelled by car in the UK is 9,200 miles per year, in a plane we can beat that in one day. On a return flight from London to New York, every passenger produces roughly 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide: the very quantity we will each be entitled to emit in a year once the necessary cut in emissions has been made.

The second reason is that the climate impact of aeroplanes is not confined to the carbon they produce. They release several different kinds of gases and particles. Some of them cool the planet, others warm it. In the upper tropo-sphere, where most large planes fly, hot, wet air from the jet engine exhaust mixes with cold air. As the moisture condenses, it can form "contrails", which in turn appear to give rise to cirrus clouds - those high wispy formations of ice crystals sometimes known as ‘horsetails.’ While they reflect some of the sun's heat back into the space, they also trap heat in the atmosphere, especially at night; the heat trapping seems to be the stronger effect. The overall impact, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is a warming effect 2.7 times that of the carbon dioxide alone.

Aviation has been growing faster than any other source of greenhouse gases. Between 1990 and 2004, the number of people using airports in the UK rose by 120%, and the energy the planes consumed increased by 79%. Their carbon dioxide emissions almost doubled in that period - from 20.1 to 39.5m tonnes, or 5.5% of all the emissions this country produces. Unless something is done to stop this growth, flying will soon overwhelm all the cuts we manage to make elsewhere. But the measures the government proposes are useless. The transport department suggests that the aviation industry should "pay the external costs its activities impose on society at large". This is an interesting proposal, but unfortunately the department does not explain how it could be arranged. Should a steward be sacrificed every time someone in Ethiopia dies of hunger? As Bangladesh goes under water, will the government demand the drowning of a commensurate number of airline executives? The idea is strangely attractive. But the only suggestion it makes is that aviation fuel might be taxed.

Unlike most environmentalists, who have also called for this measure, the government knows perfectly well that fuel tax cannot be imposed on international flights. It is prohibited under international law by article 24 of the 1944 Chicago Convention, which has been set in stone by 4,000 bilateral treaties - making it almost impossible to unpick. Now the government proposes that aviation be incorporated into the European Emissions Trading Scheme. If flights continue to grow, it will break the system.

The one certain means of preventing more flights is the one thing the British government refuses to do: limit the capacity of our airports. It employs the ‘predict and provide’ approach that has proved so disastrous when applied to road transport: as you increase the provision of space in order to meet the predicted demand, the demand rises to fill it, ensuring that you need to create more space in order to accommodate your new projections. The House of Commons environmental audit committee calculates that the extra capacity the government proposes means 'the equivalent of another Heathrow every five years.'

The Department for Transport, along with the airline industry, claims that expanding airport capacity is ‘socially inclusive,’ in that it enables poorer people to fly. But a Mori poll commissioned by the Freedom to Fly Coalition, a lobby group founded by the aviation industry, found that 75% of those who use budget airlines are in social classes A, B and C. The people who are most vulnerable to climate change are the poorest inhabitants of the poorest nations, the great majority of whom will never board an aeroplane.

So what is to be done? There are two means by which the growth in flights could be reconciled to the need to cut carbon emissions. The first is a massive increase in the fuel efficiency of aircraft; the other is a new fuel.

As far as aircraft engines are concerned, major new efficiencies in the next 20 years or so are a pipedream. The Royal Commission reports that ‘the basic gas turbine design emerged in 1947. It has been the dominant form of aircraft engine for some 50 years and there is no serious suggestion that this will change in the foreseeable future.’ It is hard to see how it could be made much more efficient than it is already.

The choice of low carbon fuels for aeroplanes is similar to the choice of low carbon fuels for cars. According to a paper by researchers at Imperial College, London, it is technically possible to fly planes whose normal fuel (kerosene) is mixed with about 5% biodiesel. But biodiesel, as I have shown elsewhere, is likely to cause more global warming than it prevents.

Ethanol, the same paper suggests, would be useless: it is insufficiently dense and, in aeroplanes, extremely dangerous. This appears to leave only hydrogen. Jets could use hydrogen today, if instead of carrying passengers and freight they carried nothing but fuel - it contains four times less energy by volume than kerosene. But if this problem could be overcome, the researchers suggest, the total climate impacts of planes fuelled by the gas ‘would be much lower than from kerosene.’

Unfortunately, when hydrogen burns, it creates water. A hydrogen plane will produce 2.6 times as much water vapour as a plane running on kerosene. This, they admit, would be a major problem if hydrogen planes flew as high as ordinary craft. But if the aircraft flew below 10,000 metres (33,000ft), where contrails are less likely to form, the impact would be negligible. What they have forgotten is that because hydrogen requires a far bigger fuel tank than kerosene, the structure (or "airframe") of the plane would need to be much larger. This means it would be subject to more drag. The Royal Commission points out that ‘the combination of larger drag and lower weight would require flight at higher altitudes’ than planes fuelled by kerosene. In fact, hydrogen planes, if they are ever used, are most likely to be deployed as supersonic jets in the stratosphere. If so, their impact on the climate would be around 13 times that of a normal aircraft running on kerosene.

And that, I'm afraid, is that. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change discovered, ‘There would not appear to be any practical alternatives to kerosene-based fuels for commercial jet aircraft for the next several decades.’ There is, in other words, no technofix. The growth in aviation and the need to address climate change cannot be reconciled. In common with all other sectors, aviation's contribution to global warming must be reduced in the UK by some 87% if we are to avoid a 2C rise in global temperatures. Given that the likely possible efficiencies are small and tend to counteract each other, an 87% cut in emissions requires not only that growth stops, but that most of the aeroplanes flying today be grounded. I realise that this is not a popular message, but it is hard to see how a different conclusion could be extracted from the available evidence.

This means the end of distant foreign holidays, unless you are prepared to take a long time getting there. It means that business meetings must take place over the internet or by means of video conferences. It means that transcontinental journeys must be made by train or coach. It means that journeys around the world must be reserved for visiting the people you love, and that they will require both slow travel and the saving up of carbon rations. It means the end of shopping trips to New York, parties in Ibiza, second homes in Tuscany and, most painfully for me, political meetings in Porto Alegre - unless you believe that these activities are worth the sacrifice of the biosphere and the lives of the poor.

But I urge you to remember that these privations affect only a tiny proportion of the world's people. The reason they seem so harsh is that this tiny proportion almost certainly includes you.

This is an edited extract from Heat, by George Monbiot, published by Allen Lane. To order a copy for £16.99 with free UK p&p (rrp £17.99), go to or call 0870 836 0875. Monbiot has also launched a new website - - exposing the false environmental claims made by corporations and celebrities.

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